West Virginia Mountaineers
Head Coach: Neal Brown
2018 Record: 8-4, 6-3 Conference
Bowl: 18-34 loss to Syracuse at Camping World Bowl
O/U 5 Wins (O -105; U -125)
National Title: +25000
The West Virginia Mountaineers won eight games last year, and it was actually a little lower than the team had set the bar for the season. It also lost all its star players going into this year, including Will Grier, David Sills V, Gary Jennings, and Yodny Cajuste. WVU’s head coach departed.
Despite all this, there is still significant enthusiasm surrounding the team, and new head coach Neal Brown is responsible for plenty of it. Brown comes from Colorado and is hoping his style translates to the Big 12. He had three straight winning seasons at Troy and is hoping Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall can tip in and be big at quarterback. The offensive line has its issues, but defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is hoping to fix the defensive issues that have plagued the Mountaineers in its recent past.
The cupboard is stocked at running back. The Mountaineers have Kennedy McKoy (a senior) and Martrell Pettaway. Pettaway is a power runner and McKoy is a versatile back capable of giving defenses a lot of problems. Leddie Brown is entering his sophomore season and 5’9” redshirt sophomore Alec Sinkfield is just one more weapon. The issue for this quartet of talented backs is that the offensive line has plenty of holes. West Virginia will have to replace LT Cajuste, but it feels Colton McKiviitz is up to the task after moving from the right side. Right guard is well-covered with junior Josh Sills, who started 22 games and was a second-team Big 12 pick. Chase Behrndt tried playing center in spring. RT Kelby Wickline sat out the Gold-Blue game with injuries, and senior Michael Brown will be starting at a new position in left guard.
Kendall sat behind Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray at Oklahoma, but he did not distinguish himself drastically from Miami (FL) transfer Jack Allison for the battle at QB. Many are saying the position is basically a “coin flip” at this point. Their WRs will include Alabama transfer TJ Simmons, redshirt freshman Sam James, and deep-threat Marcus Simms. The trio should be potent if Allison or Kendall is ready to throw to them behind that shaky offensive line.
The 3-3-5 odd stack defense is out. The team will turn instead to a 4-2 look, and it will use some hybrid players to vary that up and disguise it. The Mountaineers looked good defensively in spring, with the defense thwarting the offense as the better end of the football—at least at this point. The front is bolstered by JUCO end Taijh Alston who initially attended East Carolina. Line coach Jordan Lesley is high on him and says he has a lot of “natural tools.” Nose guard and tackle should feature Darius and Dante Stills, who come from NFL pedigree (Gary Stills). Reese Donahue will be the tackle.
West Virginia did lose five-star recruit Brendan Ferns to injury, but it will replace him with Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan. If Cowan falters, expect Zach Sandwisch and Exree Loe to be in the mix. Dylan Tonkery is also expected to make a full recovery from his injury. The Mountaineers are enamored with Josh Chandler, a weak-side linebacker. JoVanni Stewart will be featured as a hybrid in many sets, and he was No. 4 in tackles last year. Hakeem Bailey, Keith Washington Jr, and Josh Norwood will rotate the CB positions while Kenny Robinson will be the lead free- safety. The secondary is good.
The special teams might be a weak spot. Billy Kenney is gone at punter, and place-kickers Even Staley and Casey Legg were both taking punts. Simms is a strong returner of both kicks and punts, while Staley did hit 16 of 20 field goals including knocking in his last dozen. Long snapper Rex Sunahara returns as long snapper.
West Virginia had to restock so many positions that a downswing seems pretty expected, but the fan base is hardly lingering after attending the Blue-Gold game in droves. Brown made some clutch acquisitions to fill out his coaching staff, and he did a solid job recruiting, but with the offensive line being a huge weakness it is tough to expect this team to actually improve on what it did a year ago. The defense has to adapt to an entirely new scheme, too. Think of this as a rebuilding year for the Mountaineers, even if it is one surrounded with plenty of enthusiasm.
Prediction: 5 wins